Making the Choice to Lead: The Most Important Skills for Leadership
We can call it what we want.
Remote Leadership. Leadership in a VUCA world. Leading during a crisis. Leadership for dummies! As I have gone through my leadership journey, not only in the 5 hellish weeks that marked the start of lockdown, but also over the last 10 years, the one thing that remains a constant is that my team needs leadership.
I believe leadership hasn’t changed, we still need to treat people like humans. The environment has changed, so we need to tweak a few things, but leadership is still leadership.
Leadership Skill Number One: Consistency
If you do the simple things consistently well, it doesn’t matter if you are in a crisis or not. However, we’ve been trying to empower leaders to do the simple things for many years, and we’re still struggling. Why? LEADERSHIP DOESN’T JUST HAPPEN. It is a choice you make, every single day, in every interaction that you have with your team.
Here’s my definition of leadership: A leader is anyone who deliberately chooses to positively influence another human being.
Whether at home, work, school or sports, leadership shows up in many forms. I believe it’s as simple as one human caring for another and being unselfish in how they interact and inspire those around them. Therefore we can all choose to be a leader.
A great leader can take a lower-performing team and move it to high performance.
A bad boss can take a great team and ruin it.
These skills are learned. Anyone can learn to be a great leader if they are willing to adopt a growth mindset.
Like golf or cooking, you can never perfect it, you can only get better through practice and dedication. Joy can be found through the practice of consistently working on a skill, honing it, and seeing the effect it has on others.
Here are some skills I lean into as I hone my leadership:
Leadership Skill Number Two: Managing Risk
Make the calls you're afraid to make and be transparent with your team.
It's important you are realistically honest and hopeful as you tell it how it is. People need clarity so they have certainty, which means making calls that aren’t easy and talking them through with your team.
This is something I haven’t always been good at, but I did it right on March 16th when I told our team that we either pivot or die. If we do this right there is hope and a bright future.
Don't play it safe. Challenge the status quo.
This might not sit well with your team, but you have to be okay with people disagreeing with your decisions. This is the power of vulnerability and going "boldly where no man has gone before", as Star Trek teaches us.
Be willing to make mistakes.
You have to try and fail and try again. This is the power of a growth mindset: believing that through perseverance you can grow your talents. This means getting comfortable with the uncomfortable skill of making mistakes over and over again, learning from them, and work toward improving.
Leadership Skill Number Three: Dedication
"Leadership is not a license to do less; it is a responsibility to do more," according to Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't.
I'm pretty old-school on the idea that leaders eat last. I believe that great leaders lead their team through grit, determination, dedication, and a willingness to go the extra mile.
If you've signed up to be a leader, you are now in the service of those in your care.
It's your choice to dedicate yourself to building a psychologically safe team that is willing to follow you.
To do this you must be willing to give constructive feedback along with recognition, provide more clarity than you may think necessary, trust more than you're comfortable with, strive to build relationships with your team, and be more equitable with your time and energy.
The journey is not an easy one. There are many ups and downs. Have patience and stay the course.
Leadership Skill Number Four: Retraining Your Brain
You teach your team through your actions.
A great leader delivers results as well as holds themselves accountable if the results aren't there and things go wrong.
You can't shrug things off and allow the law of least efforts to blind you. We are all built by our set of habits and more often than not our brains will choose the easiest and quickest way to do things.
As a leader you need to fight that and work toward building better habits, whether that's waking up earlier, time chunking your day, or creating white space for yourself and taking a breath.
According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, “Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”
Final Thought on Making the Choice to Lead: Look After Yourself
Making the choice to be a leader is a hard one. It is very easy to give all of yourself away. But all of yourself is too much. As a leader, you must remember that you are human too. Like all humans, you aren’t perfect and you can't beat yourself up over it.
Take some "me" time and reach out for support from the people you consider allies. I invest in myself through having a coach that tells it to me straight and empowers me.
And remember: you are the role model for your team. So if you want them o take time to learn, time for self-reflection, time to recharge batteries, then you have to do this yourself. Where you lead, others will follow.
This article was originally published in early 2020, at the start of the first lockdown, ansd updated in June 2022. To find out how we've evolved and how we are wiping out bad bosses in a post-pandemic new world, read this later blog post.
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